Justin and Dale Coyne Racing got their 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series season off to a solid start with a 9th place finish in Sunday’s Honda Grand Prix of St Petersburg.
Justin, who started from 13th on the grid, ran as high as 6th before some losing ground late in the race. Canadian James Hinchcliffe (Andretti Autosport) scored a crowd-pleasing maiden victory after a tense battle with runner-up Helio Castroneves (Team Penske) while Marco Andretti (Andretti Autosport) rounded out the podium. Justin’s team-mate, Ana Beatrix, finished 22nd in the No. 18 Ipiranga car.
During the opening stint Justin, like most, was on the softer red Firestone tyres, but he quickly became bogged down in traffic and, with the No. 19 car continuing to suffer from understeer, he was unable to move forward.
A smart strategy call from the Dale Coyne Racing pit wall brought him in from 15th on Lap 14 for his first pit-stop.
Switching to the primary black tyres and now in clear air, Justin set a succession of quick lap times before the first full course caution of the race flew on Lap 19.
The benefit of going slightly off-sequence became clear when the rest of the field were forced to pit under yellow soon after - by Lap 33 Justin had vaulted to P9.
Once again, however, the No. 19 car struggled with front-end grip when it mattered, and while Justin could get to within 1-2 tenths of a second from the cars ahead, he couldn’t hustle the DW12 past and move up the order.
He pitted for the second time on Lap 45 for another set of black Firestones and had worked his way up to P8 before his third and final stop under caution on Lap 74.
Strong pit work by the Sonny’s Bar-B-Q Honda team gained a further spot to P7 and another car’s retirement brought Justin up to P6 before the final re-start Lap 85.
It looked like the No. 19 car might be on target to take a top-6 finish, but a combination of bad luck and a continued lack of front grip left Justin struggling to defend in the closing stages and he fell back to 9th at the chequered flag.
For Justin, the race had its plus points as well as frustrations, but he and the team know they have more work to do on the No. 19 car in order to challenge for podiums and victories as the season unfolds.
“We had a pretty good race,” said Justin. “The Sonny’s Bar-B-Q Honda team called some good strategy and we managed to keep picking our way up there and making improvements.
It was frustrating to lose a couple of spots right at the end - I seemed to get knocked around a little bit and be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
It’s good to get a top 10, but we want to be up there challenging for the win, so we’ll focus on what we can do better next time and try to make a step forward at Barber.”
Dale Coyne Racing